Ghali for the U.N.

November 24, 1991

The sixth United Nations secretary-general, Butros Butros Ghali, is the first from Africa or the Arab world. He follows a Peruvian, an Austrian, a Burmese, a Swede and a Norwegian in the post. It was Africa's turn, and Africa said so. Despite the jokes that the first African secretary-general was bound to be a white Christian, Mr. Ghali was one of six candidates endorsed by the Organization of African Unity. His appointment will be official when the General Assembly rubber-stamps the Security Council's decision.

Mr. Ghali is a scholarly and polished diplomat-intellectual, fluent in three of the United Nations' main languages, English, French and Arabic. He was architect of the peace diplomacy associated with Egyptian Presidents Anwar el Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. And his career hit a glass ceiling. He could never be foreign minister. He was deputy foreign minister and then deputy prime minister, but he could become only so visible in Egyptian politics because he is a Copt, a member of Egypt's Christian minority. Egypt is officially proud of its Coptic heritage, dating to Roman times, but in the street ferment of Islamic fundamentalism now shaking Egypt, some Copts are suffering harassment and worse. Mr. Ghali, immune from that in the ruling elite, is not only a Copt but married to an Egyptian Jew. He is not in President Mubarak's line of succession.

Mr. Ghali is an ideal secretary-general unless, at 69 with health problems, he proves to be too old and frail. The United Nations is on the ascendant in its value to a troubled world, after a low period in the '70s and '80s, thanks in part to retiring Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar. As a result, the current physical demands on the secretary-general would tax the stamina of an ox.

That puts the spotlight on the runner-up in Security Council voting, Bernard Chidzero, who is only 62. Mr. Chidzero is finance minister of Zimbabwe, presiding over its conversion to market economics. The international lending agencies' high esteem for Mr. Chidzero is a large part of Zimbabwe's creditworthiness. The prospect of his going off to the U.N. sent chills through it. Mr. Chidzero pursued a U.N. secretariat career, rising to deputy secretary-general of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), until his country's independence and supplications of President Robert Mugabe brought him home in 1980. So, in the next few years, if something happens to Mr. Ghali's capacity to do his job, Mr. Chidzero is in the wings.

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